Record Review: November Group – Work That Dream

A&M Records ‎| SP-12512 | US | EP | 1985

A&M Records ‎| US | EP | 1985 | SP-12512

November Group: Work That Dream US EP [1985]

  1. Volker
  2. Work That Dream
  3. Put Your Back To It [2]
  4. No Promise
  5. Arrows Up To Heaven
  6. Careful [Life Is A Fragile Thing]

Now we’ll discuss the third and final November Group EP, “Work That Dream.” I recall seeing the mail order ads for the first November Group EP, but this one, where by 1985 they had signed with A+M Records, was the first one I ever saw in a store to buy. So I bit. This one is a fully fledged, big money production. Like Rush said, “big money goes around the world,” so this was duly recorded in Germany with Peter Hauke [Nektar and hundreds of German bands] manning the boards.

It’s a different beast from the first blush of the PPG Wave synth, programmed by Volker Barber whose first name was lent to the brief instrumental that opened the EP. A brief waltz snipped of sampled strings. The title track starts immediately after that and the music is still synth-funk with the important addition of a percussionist Perter Koch who adds a human pulse to all of this digital synth explosion. The song’s middle eight is little more than synth player Kearney Kirby trying out new samples every half bar. Pretty typical mid-80s stuff, though usually this never occurred with a quica making those distinctive simian noises during the synth-bleating.

“Put Your Back To It” was revisited here in a new, more concise version. The succinct changes to the arrangement give it more zip than it had in its five minute version on the preceding “Persistent Memories” EP. The startling blasts of PPG guitar strangling give it an edge that few other bands tried to achieve. I can thing of the Fairlight guitar solos on ABC’s “How To Be A Zillionaire” but none other come to mind. The biggest change to the song after this was the slightly less steely vocal performance from guitarist Ann Prim. She sounded more strident on the earlier version and here she reigns her predilection for stentorian projection that’s second to Tony Hadley.

Synth player Kirby got her one moment on the vocal sun on “The Promise” the only November Group song where carried the verses of the lead vocals. The galloping slap bass of hired hand Jack Lambert fully make this song reflective of its times, reminding me why iI traded this in during the Great Vinyl Purge II. I had been led to expect a little more out of November Group, but by this time, they were making the similar moves that many others [let’s say, Toyah Wilcox ca. “Minx”] were also making in this German-centric digital synth world.

“Arrows Up To Heaven” was a little better, and the subtler vocal approach of Ms. Prim delivered the goods here in a more successful way. I tend to prefer her earlier, more strident approach, but I didi not get a chance to hear that material until last year! Her solo on this track was fairly tasty. It’s easy to forget that her guitar is an important counterpoint to the buckets of synths typically on a November Group track.

The last number has an arrangement with synth stabs that remind me of the intro to Madonna’s “Lucky Star” but it clearly steps forward into a more sophisticated world. Even after I had traded this record in, the title “Careful [Life Is A Fragile Thing]” would stick in my mind as being a fantastic title, and hearing this track again after a 30 year layoff, shows that my memories were not leading me astray. This somewhat softer track was a great way to end the EP as it had all of the conclusive marks of a great “last song on album” track. It’s danceable without being bludgeoning about it. It manages to make a valuable statement while offering some level of hope at the end of the show.

I have to say that I like this EP more than I did at the time that I originally purchase it. Having all three November Group EPs is very fascinating to me in 2016 and this EP, while not as strong as the two that preceded it, makes for an intriguing developmental arc for this femme-led synth duo. They have an inherent funkiness that rubs shoulder pads with their penchant for brusque stridency. Alas, this was their last EP, though there was that demo tape several years later…

– 30 –

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2 Responses to Record Review: November Group – Work That Dream

  1. Taffy says:

    I’ve loved all three November Group EPs since they were released, but I remember at the time thinking that with Work That Dream they’d hit a career peak. That bigger budget let to a more expansive sound, and perhaps a slightly warmer one too. Warmer isn’t necessarily better, of course…I prefer the icy mechanism of Spandau’s Journeys to Glory over the “listening to Marvin”-isms of True, for instance, but i sensed a real growth here. Sadly that was the end of the line for the November Group. At least I got to see them twice (circa 1983) in western Massachusetts, where so many Boston-based bands would come play college town bars. My fuzzy memory is that they were really quite good live.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Taffy – Yes, it’s a slightly warmer sound, emotionally. The machines are all colder digital synths here but there was always enough analog instrumentation to keep things lively with this band. But on the first EP Ann Prim could give DAF some competition!
      Ironically, they sounded less Germanic once they got to Germany to record this EP! And speaking of which, isn’t it a bit of a ripoff that they never got to put out a full album? They certainly had the songs for it judging from these three EPs.

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